Royal Small Arms Factory (Enfield)
The Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) had its origins in a short-lived Royal Manufactory of Small Arms established in Lewisham in 1807. The site in Lewisham was a mill where armour had been made since the fourteenth century; following its purchase by Henry VIII in 1530, it became known as the Royal Armoury Mills and served his armoury in Greenwich.
The RSAF was established at Enfield in 1816 and was set up because of disappointment with the quality and cost of the existing British weapons used in the Napoleonic War. At this time in Britain, they were built as individual gun components mainly in the Gun Quarter, Birmingham by a number of independent manufacturers and then hand-assembled to produce rifles. These component makers eventually combined to become the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA). The Enfield factory was intended to improve the quality and to drive down costs.
The factory was built on the instructions of the Board of Ordnance on a marshy island located at Enfield Lock bordered by the River Lea and the Lee Navigation. The land was acquired in 1812 and the factory completed by 1816.
The original ambitious plans by Captain John By included three mills. Later, the engineer John Rennie (the elder) recommended the construction of a navigable leat. The leat was made, although only one mill with two waterwheels was completed.The site had the advantages of water-power to drive the machinery and the River Lea Navigation for the transportation by barge of raw materials and finished weapons to the River Thames, 15 miles away to be loaded onto sailing ships. Neighbouring farmland was acquired to become a restricted area to test ordnance from the Royal Gunpowder Mill.
During the next 100 years it developed from a single, water-powered mill to a complex modern factory, the first to be built on the mass-production principles in Britain. It was the main Government-owned manufactory for the production of military small arms, and produced hundreds of thousands of rifles and machine guns during both world wars.
A sword-making department was set up in 1823 and the factory fought off the threat of closure in 1831; It remained quite modest in size until the Crimean War of 1853/1856, which resulted in vastly increased production.
By 1856 a machine shop was built on American mass-production lines, using American machinery powered by steam engines. The shop was based on a design by John Anderson and built by the Royal Engineers. The workforce increased to 1000, and by 1860 an average of 1,744 rifles were produced per week.
In 1866 another major expansion took place and the watermill gave way to steampower. The total number of steam engines grew to sixteen; and by 1887 there were 2,400 employees.
Production of a new model rifle, the Lee-Enfield, designed by James Paris Lee (1831-1904), who was born in Scotland but emigrated to Canada aged five and died in the USA, began in 1889.
In 1892 the Eadie Manufacturing Co. received a large contract to supply precision rifle parts to the Royal Small Arms Factory (Enfield). In celebration of this, the managing directors called their new bicycle "the Enfield". In October that year a new firm was founded the Enfield Manufacturing Co. to market the new bicycle.
A year later the word "Royal" was added to the product name and thus the Royal Enfield began. Their trademark, "Made Like A Gun" appeared in 1893 with a picture of a field gun facing left.
The only thing common between the RSAF and her Lee Enfield rifle (which was designed in 1895) and Royal Enfield at that time still a product of the Eadie Manufacturing Co and The Enfield Manufacturing Co. are the words 'Enfield' and 'Royal'. Also the trademark's field gun and the slogan 'made like a gun' directly attributable to the business with the RSAF.
The RSAF expanded again in World War I; and in World War II. Two other Royal Ordnance Factories were set up in World War II to manufacture rifles designed at RSAF Enfield, and hence to increase arms output in areas less vulnerable to bombing: ROF Fazakerley and ROF Maltby. Both of these have long been closed.
Decline set in after World War II; and in 1963 half the site was closed.
The RSAF was privatised in 1984 along with a number of Royal Ordnance Factories to become part of Royal Ordnance Plc; and was later bought by British Aerospace (BAe). They closed the site in 1988 and on the island is now a new housing estate including some of the old factory buildings. The Estate is named Enfield Island Village.